Our Boston mesothelioma lawyers know that exposure to asbestos is the primary factor in the development of both mesothelioma and asbestosis.
But why is it that some individuals develop one and not the other?
A newly-released British study may have the answer, and it may have to do with the age at which a person is exposed.
First, however, let’s explore what each disease is, and how it affects a person.
Both conditions are caused by exposure to asbestos and both will typically result in difficulty breathing. There is no cure for either. The primary difference is that mesothelioma is a cancer condition, while asbestosis is a chronic lung disease. However, it’s important to note that those suffering from asbestosis are at high risk of developing lung cancer.
Someone suffering from asbestosis will suffer for many years as the disease slowly progresses. Oxygen treatments help, but they won’t cure the person. Eventually, the person is likely to suffer respiratory failure. Often, a person with asbestosis will succumb to pneumonia.
Mesothelioma, on the other hand, is a rare and fatal form of cancer. Often, this disease targets the pleura of the lungs, though it can also affect other internal organs, such as the stomach. The mesothelioma attaches to these pleura. Usually, a person will have no symptoms of the disease for years or even decades after exposure. However, once a person is diagnosed, the disease becomes acute and rapidly aggressive. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are sometimes used to help prolong life, but again, there is no cure.
So with this in mind, researchers with the Epidemiology Unit of the U.K’s Health and Safety Division sought to why a person would develop one or the other. Researchers had been puzzled about why asbestos-related deaths hadn’t dropped off between 1991 and 2000, despite increases in government regulation on the material.
To do this, they analyzed data from nearly 34,000 mesothelioma deaths and nearly 5,400 asbestosis deaths in Britain. Deaths were plotted on a chart by age.
The ages of the individuals when they died was no real surprise for both groups – much lower than the average life expectancy of a person without one of these disease.
However, the surprising aspect was that the asbestosis incidents appeared to have peaked for those born between 1924 and 1938, while mesothelioma cases appear to have peaked for those born between 1939 and 1943.
The researchers hypothesize that it has to do with the level of intensity the individuals suffered at certain points in their lives. Those who suffered asbestosis, it seems, were more likely to have been exposed to heavier amounts at a younger age, while those who were exposed to asbestos at an older age appeared more prone to develop mesothelioma.
Obviously, this is just the first study of its kind, and it’s not absolutely definitive, but the theory makes sense. It may also be helpful in terms of litigation because the difference in diagnosis could assist attorneys and plaintiffs in pinpointing the exact time frame – and therefore culprit – of the exposure.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma in New England, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.
Mortality from asbestosis and mesothelioma in Britain by birth cohort, October 2012, Abstract, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
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Judge Rules Defendant Can’t Conduct Mesothelioma Plaintiff Autopsy, Sept. 11, 2012, Boston Mesothelioma Lawyers Blog